In the 2017 approximately 61 Billion was lost from the following agricultural value chains; Irish potatoes, milk, millet, beans, bananas, sweet potatoes, pineapples, tomatoes and sorghum. The reason for this loss was; poor storage, transport and fungi attack. According to standard media article, a third of the food produced is lost yearly. Kenya is currently grappling with the possibility of a countrywide drought.
A few solutions have been recommended to solve the postharvest losses in Kenya but the response is not taken up positively because of the following reasons;
- The technology is not locally available due to cost.
- Skills transfer to the locals is not done efficiently and managing such systems becomes problematic.
- The areas where these technologies are needed most, there is no grid connection to electricity.
Urgent areas that are crucial and prime for solutions in solar cooling are;
- Fresh vegetables
In a bid to solve these problems; Strathmore University Energy Research Centre partnered with Hohenheim University funded by Powering Agriculture have held a workshop to sensitize on possible research on solar cooling technologies in Kenya and how to increase agricultural productivity in Kenya. During the workshop; various technologies were introduced that could meet different needs and solve different functions as follows;
- Solar Ice maker – Primarily makes approximately 54 kg of ice
- Battery free refrigerator – it is solar powered, makes use of icepacks to keep the products at 4C
- Water Chiller – battery powered, converts water to ice.
Applications of the technologies above are the following but not restricted to;
- Milk cooling
- Vegetable and fruit preservation in cold rooms for storage as well as in transportation trucks.
- Fridges for soft drink vendors.
- Use of the solar coolers to keep biological elements below freezing point.
- Air Conditioning in the event of very hot days, the water chiller functions as an air cooler but works best in closed spaces.
A synergy with SERC will ensure more research into other functions that the technology can be used for. More so introduction of this technology in pre-existing value chains that need boosting and optimization. Other possible areas of synergy include working with the Energy Regulatory Commission to get subsidies for this technology. The milk cooling application has been tried in Siaya and Kisumu and the results have been very positive. Upon introduction of the systems, notable changes were as follows;
- More milk was getting to the cooperatives in the evening.
- More milk delivered meant more money to the farmers.
- There was a considerable improvement in the livelihoods of the women involved in the project.
The success of these systems was pegged on the following;
- Good training of the people of the ground.
- There was a sense of ownership of the project by the farmers.
- Willingness of the farmers to try the new technology.
Milk is but one of the value chains in the agricultural sector. Research in the rest of the agricultural value chains will unlock future partnered researches between SERC and Hohenheim University. This will also see SERC possibly start a course in Solar Cooling to build capacity on solar cooling.